Defining Digital Marketing

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DefinitionIn the game show Jeopardy, the answers are given first then contestants provide the questions. Digital marketing can be like that. Often times we provide the answer before we know the question.

For example, if the answer is “Facebook”, the question can sometimes be incorrectly expressed as, “What channel can I use to share lots of unplanned content and off-brand messaging to an audience I haven’t defined and then feel good about it because it’s ‘free’”. An answer Alex Trebek may accept might be, “What channel could be leveraged as part of a planned brand strategy providing useful content and outreach to my targeted audience?” The difference is that, unlike Jeopardy, the question “what is digital marketing?” doesn’t have just one answer.

As online marketing and advertising has evolved, so has the language that describes it. Terms like SEO and SEM can mean different things to different people. Some marketers use SEM (search engine marketing) to encompass any search engine marketing – organic or paid – and some see it as paid efforts only. Some marketers see SEO (search engine optimization) more as search experience optimization because the searching process is no longer limited just to engines; it’s inclusive of social, video and other platforms. People use search and non-search engine sites to initiate search queries at any point in the marketing funnel from discovery to consideration to conversion.

How Brands are Defining Digital Roles & Skills

Digital marketing can mean different things to different people. Just do a search on LinkedIn for digital marketing roles:

“Seeking a Digital Marketing Strategist responsible for successfully developing, planning, analyzing and implementing omni-channel marketing strategies to meet client objectives. This strategic and hands-on role helps clients create marketing programs bridging web, email, mobile, social and traditional channels to achieve desired client marketing results.”

“Responsible for creating and executing strategy for online marketing programs to support expansion and growth of products.  This savvy inbound marketer needs a strong understanding of search engine optimization, online advertising, landing pages, social media, content marketing, and website management.”

“Digital marketing strategist who has experience with website optimization, usability metrics, and testing tools. Will be expected to take responsibility for setting the firm’s digital marketing strategy responsible for all digital activities that include delivering impactful campaigns that will raise awareness of the company’s brand and promote our products. They will plan and execute all web, email, social media and display advertising campaigns that will include SEM/SEO/PPC programs. They will also be responsible for measuring and optimizing campaigns and websites.”

“Be able to work across the business with key internal stakeholders including distribution, operations, IT and compliance teams on key projects and on-going digital activities.”

“Responsible for implementing and managing online experiences for our web properties and online initiatives.”

“Conceptualizing, developing and executing strategic plans and online experiences.”

“Driving traffic through SEO and other online promotions.”

“Establishing a detailed content roadmap and editorial calendar and establishing robust measurement framework for programs to continuously monitor site experience in order to optimize for maximum ROI for digital.”

Digital Marketing jobs on LinkedIn

My favorite and most all-encompassing is this:

“Manage digital integration across the digital footprint to create a cohesive user journey.”

These descriptions of digital marketing from just 10 job listings perfectly illustrate the range of skills and experience needed to be considered a “digital strategist”.

How the Industry is Defining Digital Roles & Skills

According to the Digital Marketing Institute, Digital Marketing is the use of digital channels to promote or market products and services to consumers and businesses.

According to Wikipedia, digital marketing includes Internet marketing techniques, such as search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and social community management, paid social advertising (which continues to be how brands can reach their audience in social since organic reach is very limited in most social platforms. It also extends to non-Internet channels that provide digital media, such as mobile phones (both SMS and MMS), callback, social media marketing, display advertising, and any other form of digital media or digital channel.

The rapid evolution of digital media has created new opportunities and avenues for advertising and marketing. Fueled by the proliferation of devices to access digital media, this has led to the exponential growth of digital advertising.

1. Segmentation: more focus has been placed on segmentation within digital marketing, in order to target specific markets in both business to business and business to consumer sectors.

2. Influencer Marketing: Important nodes are identified within related communities, known as influencers. This is becoming an important concept in digital targeting. It is possible to reach influencers via paid advertising, such as Facebook Advertising or Google Adwords campaigns, or through sophisticated sCRM (social customer relationship management) software, such as SAP C4C, Microsoft Dynamics, Sage CRM and Salesforce CRM. Many universities now focus, at Masters level, on engagement strategies for influencers.

To summarize, Pull digital marketing is characterized by consumers actively seeking marketing content while Push digital marketing occurs when marketers send messages without that content being actively sought by the recipients.

3. Online Behavioural Advertising: Online Behavioural Advertising refers to the practice of collecting information about a user’s online activity over time, “on a particular device and across different, unrelated websites, in order to deliver advertisements tailored to that user’s interests and preferences”.

4. Collaborative Environment: A collaborative environment can be set up between the organization, the technology service provider,and the digital agencies to optimize effort, resource sharing, reusability and communications.

As digital marketing has evolved, models have been created to illustrate marketing expertise needed to effectively execute in the changing landscape that is digital. For example, the T-shaped Marketer model highlighted by Moz recognizes that deep expertise and ownership of skill sets within the web marketing ecosystem looks more like this:

T-Shaped Web Marketer

T-Shaped Web Marketer via Moz

Rand Fishkin explains that breadth breeds respect and depth provides mastery.  He posits that understanding that mastery of one or two disciplines and breadth across multiple disciplines is a more likely expectation of an individual’s skills that they bring to the digital marketing team. Overlapping knowledge and respect amongst team members who have depth in different areas of digital marketing breeds creativity and collaboration to support the demands of digital marketing.

With so many skills, processes, channels and tools available to digital marketers, a methodology or framework for digital marketing helps brands and organizations begin with the framework and gain clarity on what they are trying to achieve. The framework for digital marketing here combines elements from two methodologies; Ian Lurie’s “Marketing Stack” and CMI’s “Content Marketing Framework”.

CMI Framework

CMI Content Marketing Framework

Both are effective and inclusive of the structure needed to execute digital marketing and can be tailored depending on business need and resources.

Sample Digital Marketing Framework

Digital Marketing Strategy & Planning

A digital marketing plan includes goals, strategies and tactics as does a traditional marketing plan. Discovery and brand immersion are important efforts in planning to assure understanding past learning and implications of the brand strategy.

Roles may include digital strategist, content strategist or brand strategist. (See: The Ideal Digital Marketing Team)

The deliverables may include a digital marketing roadmap or plan.

Why it’s important: All marketing teams can better align and integrate if there’s an overarching digital marketing strategy or plan that aims to achieve business goals and the discovery process has uncovered learning that allows the digital team to avoid recreating the wheel.

Digital Marketing Audiences

Audience engagement starts with persona and audience segmentation and can also include influencer identification & outreach. Learn more in Momentology’s Influence Now Guide.

Roles may include brand strategist, digital strategist, market research specialist, customer experience manager, UX specialist or a persona creation vendor. Paid social strategists can help us find look alike audiences in Facebook as we move from identification of current to potential customers.

Deliverables may include persona segmentation or a persona project guide.

Why it’s important: It’s never been easier to leverage insights into personas due to the wealth of information and data in social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Digital advertising spend and other efforts will only be as effective of the targeting and understanding of brand personas or target markets.

Digital Marketing Content & Storytelling

Editorial skills and content asset creation are imperative to the success of the content and storytelling elements of the digital marketing strategy. Without exceptional content that is read, shared and linked to, a channel strategy is irrelevant.

Roles may include an editor, content developers, video producers or brand planners.

Deliverables may include content audit, content pillars, editorial calendars and content assets.

Why it’s important: Executing in multiple channels without a content or communications strategy means the customer journey will be disjointed and it will be more difficult to achieve goals without specific campaigns created to achieve those goals.

Digital Marketing Channels

A channel strategy doesn’t ask, “should we have a presence on Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter?”, it asks “Do our customers or potential customers spend time in that channel?” Whether the channel is Search, Inbound Marketing, Paid (PPC, display, retargeting & remarketing), PR, Social, Paid Social, or CRM, a good channel strategy takes into consideration a number of elements including dedicated resources, skills and timing.

Roles may include digital advertising strategist, inbound marketer, PPC/Paid Social specialist, social marketer, community managers, PR specialists, SEO manager, email marketing specialists or even project managers.

Deliverables may include channel integration plan and a digital advertising/paid calendar.

Why it’s important: The content strategy comes first and the channel comes next. Facebook and Instagram aren’t marketing strategies, they’re platforms on which we execute a content strategy. These explorations help illustrate what is working best for our customers and to dedicate resources and budget accordingly. According to AdWeek’s post “The State of Digital Marketing” direct, referral and search are the top digital channels. Understanding your channel metrics helps guide decision making.

Digital Marketing Conversation

Getting customers to share and engage is the holy grail of digital marketing. Brands understand that only pushing the marketing message won’t be effective, and may even be detrimental. People leverage digital to help them answer questions, solve problems and improve their lives. When they talk about and share that journey, how brands create conversation can dictate not only digital marketing but brand perception.

Roles may include community managers, social marketers or digital strategists.

Deliverable may include conversation calendars and an influencer identification and outreach plan.

Why it’s important: Though conversation happens more organically than planned or push marketing, it’s still imperative to outline strategy for engagement, including influencer identification & outreach.

Digital Marketing Process, Roles & Teams

It’s important that digital teams have a resource to manage key operational and organizational priorities and to implement cross-team collaboration to create a strategy that supports business initiatives.

As shared in the LinkedIn job descriptions, creating the digital marketing process, roles and teams can be inclusive of many skills and needs.

An integral part of digital marketing comes with defining the process, tools, roles and dedicated teams. Framework, such as the one defined here (patterned after CMI’s Content Marketing Framework and the Marketing Stack), or other methodologies are created with the goal of addressing the ever-evolving and expansive digital marketing ecosystem.

Processes and framework for digital marketing

Processes and framework for digital marketing from Portent Interactive

Roles may include digital marketing (strategist, manager, director or VP)  or operations director.

Deliverables may include workflow charts and a tooling features matrix to identify business problems and the tools that help provide the insight and data that helps solve those problems.

Why it’s important: Processes are the vehicle by which work gets completed.

Digital Marketing Measurement

Many analytics dashboards provide measurement around siloed efforts. Providing a digital dashboard that includes insight across multiple channels is a difficult task.

Roles may include business intelligence specialist or analytics specialist.

Deliverables may include digital marketing integrated dashboards, monthly channel reports or insights dashboards that feature metrics as well as the stories that the analysis of the data illustrates.

Why it’s important: In Ian Lurie’s Marketing Stack example, analytics is a foundational element as is content and infrastructure. If those elements aren’t in place to hold up the other digital marketing elements of Paid, Owned and Earned those campaigns will likely be siloed, and largely ineffective.

Often times brands ignore the content and analytics elements and move directly to the Paid strategies that they know can move the revenue needle more quickly. That can be a band-aid and short-term solution but it won’t result in the best possible use of digital ad spend without the content and measurement tools in place to create iterative goal/approach/result campaigns that allow digital teams to learn as they execute.


Now more than ever it’s imperative that we create and test digital marketing frameworks to find a more effective place between defining deliverables and execution schedules with the ability to pivot when the landscape changes. A digital marketing framework is a tested path to that end.

The digital marketing ecosystem will continue to evolve as will the skills needed to execute in that ecosystem. Most marketers agree that the aspiration of true omni-channel marketing that’s inclusive of all marketing efforts and opportunities is, at this point, fairly elusive. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to that dream of truly informed omni-channel customer journey or the perfectly-skilled-in-all-disciplines marketer. Maybe it means that we do what the wild west that is the internet has challenged us to do all along; test, learn and get better with every iteration.

The biggest mistake we can make is waiting for all the digital marketing pieces and people to perfectly align before we make a choice and test and learn.

Just like in Jeopardy, the clock is ticking and though it’s possible your response may be wrong, it’s guaranteed you’ll lose if you don’t try.

  • How does your team define digital marketing?
  • What digital marketing framework is your team using?
  • If no framework exists, how would it impact your organization to adopt a framework?
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Lisa Williams is the President of Sustainable Digital Marketing. She is an 18-year veteran of online marketing and has been featured in Kiplinger Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Boston Globe and The Oregonian. Lisa is on the SEMpdx (Search Engine Marketing Professionals of Portland Oregon) Advisory Board and member of SEMPO. She speaks at regional, national and international conferences on the topics of digital strategy, marketing integration, team development and leadership. She is available for training and consulting.

State of Digital


Beyond Content Shock: The defining trend of 2015 is Content Ignition


content ignition

I’d like to share an email I recently received …

Dear Mark:

I am the founder of a sporting goods company in the Pacific Northwest. We occupy (and dominate) a small but profitable extreme sport niche.

We are certainly a conversational company with passionate fans and we have worked hard to engage and build a social media audience to the point where we have 13,000 fans on Facebook. In late 2012 we hired a full-time community manager and content producer. This is an extraordinary step and a huge commitment to content marketing for a company with only 17 employees!

In the last 12 months our reach on Facebook has declined by 90 percent. Despite spending MORE on higher quality video, our views have stagnated. Engagement on our blog is down by 50 percent even though we are investing in more consistent posting and highlighting great customer stories and adventures.

The more we spend on content marketing, the worse the problem gets it seems. Can you help us?

William B.

border line

There could be many reasons behind this fellow’s problem. Competitive activity shifts. Customers turning to new social media channels. An ineffective community manager.

But more than likely, there is at least one systemic factor behind this decline — there is an increasing amount of competing content in his market niche. A strategy that worked last year is not good enough today. William’s decline in Facebook reach is extreme but not unusual. According to AgoraPulse, From July 2013 to July 2014, 71 percent of company Facebook pages had a loss in organic reach of at least 30 percent, a cataclysmic decline.


According to Facebook, there is simply too much stuff. The average Facebook user now has the opportunity to see nearly 2,000 Facebook posts a day. The company has no alternative but to ratchet the news stream back.

This is Content Shock happening right before our eyes.

“Overload” versus “density”

A year ago I coined this term “Content Shock” to describe our era of particularly difficult marketing. Content marketing works well … and as more and more people figure that out, market niches become flooded with higher-quality content alternatives for the same consumer attention.

It is important to know that this business challenge before us is NOT created by “information overload.” It’s defined by “information density.” There is a big difference.

More information (“overload”) is actually great news for consumers. The competition for attention will force better content and more choice. We now have the accumulated knowledge of the human race at our finger tips and that is a good thing, even if it might seem overwhelming.

But unless the amount of content saturation is low in your market, trying to cut through this information tsunami (“density” – the business side of the trend) is going to be a significant challenge for many businesses — like the sporting goods company in the letter above. Without changing something dramatically and NOW, the effectiveness of William’s content marketing efforts are declining week by week. He is basically throwing money away.

And it’s going to get worse.

The problem intensifies

Research from CMI/Marketing Profs and others shows that business content “production” is going into hyper drive in 2015 and beyond. In fact, between now and 2020, the amount of information on the Internet is expected to increase by 500% (and some experts believe that number is conservative). So let’s get our heads around that fact. If you can imagine the vastness of the Internet, in the next few years, we are going to have five of those.

If you think getting your message through is difficult now, well … fasten your seat belt.

Most marketers “get it.” The Content Shock topic has been featured in dozens of podcasts, webinars and conferences. There were a remarkable number of blog posts written about the subject — more than 700 so far.  And of that total, less than 10 posts had an outright dismissive response to the primary position of the article — information density will dramatically impact the nature of business competition. If you are actively working in marketing today, you know that Content Shock is not a theory. You’re already fighting through it every day.

While the idea of Content Shock might have seemed provocative or even controversial a year ago, it is mainstream thinking today. If you look at the major themes of the traditional “forecast posts” we see at this time of year, there are three themes stated nearly everywhere:

  1. Paying to get our content viewed
  2. A need to focus on new content distribution strategies
  3. A move away from crowded places like Facebook and into less noisy channels

All of these trends are predictable consequences of increasing information density and Content Shock.

And that brings us to today.

The business imperative of finding a way to claw our way through information density is not only real, it is the most profound and important trend in the marketing profession — today, and for years to come.

Information density is like a hammer pounding on the marketing industry anvil. It will forge entirely new platforms. new advertising models, new content types. As we strain against the winds of the content hurricane before us, it will influence the nature of our jobs, the skills we need to compete, our budgets, and most certainly our strategies.

This is neither good nor bad. It simply is.

You can see this as exciting or you can see this as depressing. Just don’t think it is OK to stay the same.

Is content marketing still about content?

A common notion in our field is “Great content will always rise to the top.”

This is a comforting thought and something that was certainly true in the early, less-crowded days of the web.

Perhaps it is still true today if you are fortunate and your business resides in an established and dominant position in an industry niche (in essence, creating Content Shock for your competitors!).

But for most of us toiling in the marketing trenches every day, we know this mantra rings hollow in 2015.

Great content does not necessarily rise to the top. Great content is merely the starting point.

It is the table stake to get us into the game.

Content Ignition

Content sitting idly on a website — even superb content — has as much value as the world’s greatest movie script locked in a cold, dark vault. It is doing nothing. It means nothing. It is certainly not rising to the top or creating measurable value for our organizations.

The conversation in 2015 and beyond must be, “what now?” What comes after “great content?” How do we IGNITE our excellent work to cut through this intimidating world of information density? How do we become more clever, more resourceful, more strategic in the distribution of that investment so that people actually SEE it, ENGAGE with it, and SHARE it in a way that creates business value?

If Content Shock defined the marketing conversation in 2014, “IGNITION” must be the keystone idea moving forward.

Content marketing for most businesses is not just about the content any more. It’s about the content ignition.

Don’t just write. Ignite.

Let’s move forward and explore this conversation together in 2015 shall we?

Further reading

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Loupiote

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